State News

N.C. Senate clears smoking ban in restaurants, bars

Posted May 11, 2009 4:06 a.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2009 12:27 a.m. EDT

— The state Senate on Monday gave final approval of a smoking ban in nearly all restaurants and bars.

The Senate voted 30-18 in favor of the measure that next returns to the state House, which passed a broader version last month and where bills that made similar attacks on secondhand smoking have died twice since 2005.

“We're preserving the rights of people who don't smoke. That is what we're doing. They have a right too,” said Sen. William Purcell, D-Anson, a supporter of the smoking ban.

The House version would ban smokers from places where children under age 18 visit or work. That would have allowed smoking in self-standing lounges but banned it from restaurants with bar sections.

The bill's primary sponsor said he believes House members will support some kind of smoking ban and expects it will probably be a negotiated compromise with the Senate.

"The thing we (House members) are most disappointed with is not protecting the workplace. But we have got a bill now that we can work with and move North Carolina forward," Rep. Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, a two-time lung cancer survivor and House majority leader.

Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, was among those members who voted against the ban. He said it violates a property owner's constitutional right.

"Our constitution guarantees the right of people to use their property in anyway (legally) they see fit," Hunt said.

Both chambers would have to vote again on a final version.

“I think if we make the bill any weaker than what we have in the Senate – we won't have much of a bill,” Purcell said.

If North Carolina's smoking ban is approved this year, the state would become the 35th – and perhaps one of the most unlikely – to join a national trend of segregating the one in five Americans who smoke.

For decades, the state's politicians protected both cigarette makers and the thousands of tobacco growers whose crop was worth $686 million to North Carolina farmers in 2008 – nearly half the value of the entire U.S. output and 80 percent more than the next largest producer.

But times are changing. A recent Elon University poll found about two-thirds of North Carolinians backed a ban on public smoking indoors, and eight in 10 said they consider secondhand smoke a threat to their health.

Purcell said second-hand smoke cost the state $269 million a year in health-related costs.